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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

A Son's Solution

How one man showed his love


BACK TO THE MAIN STORY

MASUZOE YOICHI IS ONE of Japan's best-known political scientists and the author of a dozen books on weighty subjects such as Japan's place in the world and the state of its economy. But none of those volumes ever had the same impact as the one he wrote about his experiences taking care of his aging mother. Since it was published in January this year, When I Put a Diaper on My Mother has sold 100,000 copies. "That's far more than my other works," he says.

Masuzoe, 49, decided to shift his professional base from Tokyo to Kita-Kyushu, on the southern tip of Japan, after his 82-year-old mother began showing signs of deteriorating mental health. The move was made easier by the fact that for nine years he has been self-employed, heading his Masuzoe Institute for Political Economy. He now communicates with his Tokyo clients by e-mail and fax, and seeks lecture assignments in the southern and western part of the country.

The writer says that taking care of his mother at home has been a crash course in the grim realities of welfare for the aged in present-day Japan. Take something as simple as buying a special van with a lift for a wheelchair. First, Masuzoe had to negotiate endless obstacles to register his mother as officially handicapped. Then he found he couldn't get tax relief for the purchase because his official address was still in Tokyo. When he asked for a special parking permit for the van, local officials rejected the application because he, as driver, was not registered as a local resident.

Masuzoe related these experiences and his general dissatisfaction with care for the aged in a popular national television talk show that aired last year. The program and the book that followed have made him a national authority on the subject. These days he spends more time talking about the nursing of old people, its impact on society, the economy and politics than he does on his real specialty, international affairs.

Japanese newspapers devote considerable space to profiles of people who, like Masuzoe, have found unusual ways of caring for the elderly. The stories draw enormous reader interest. The Nihon Keizei Shimbun, the national financial daily, now publishes a regular Sunday column where celebrities and opinion-makers write about their experiences. Memoirs and diaries become best-sellers. Kadono Haruko, a 60-year-old writer, turned her comical but bitter-sweet remembrances of caring for her cranky old mother into a popular television series.

Masuzoe is fortunate in that his relative wealth allowed him to build a home for himself and his mother, with space for an office. His new wife was also happy to take on some of the duties - leaving him time to also pursue his career. But he warns that care for the elderly has to be put on a more professional footing. "Nursing the old at home is an endless battle," he says. It can't be left to women alone.


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